TSTC celebrates 50 years in Sweetwater

(SWEETWATER, Texas) – When classes begin at Texas State Technical College’s Sweetwater campus on Monday, Aug. 31, it will mark 50 years of service in West Texas.

On Sept. 1, 1970, the first classes at the former Texas State Technical Institute Rolling Plains campus were held in Sweetwater. The college offered seven day courses and eight night courses during the first year. Today, TSTC offers associate degrees in eight different programs at the campus.

TSTC Chancellor and CEO Mike Reeser has a special affinity for the Sweetwater campus.

“I had the honor of serving 10 years at the Sweetwater location of TSTC. So, I know firsthand how the Sweetwater campus reflects the peerless work ethic and the friendly nature of the people who make West Texas a very special place,” he said. “Want to find the ethos that defines the state of Texas? Go to TSTC in Sweetwater.”

The Sweetwater community began working on plans to request a campus in 1969. The Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce, on May 2, 1969, listed as its top priority that a vocational-training school be built at the former air base in Sweetwater.

“We feel that this is a must for this area and that it would fill a definite need,” wrote Wade E. Forester, chamber president, to then Texas Gov. Preston Smith. “We are looking at the surrounding areas and feel that this would turn the tide concerning the many problems that the West Texas area is facing in reference to industrial development and training.”

Since its inception, the Sweetwater campus’ mission of training students for the Texas workforce has not changed. 

Texas State Rep. Stan Lambert recently voiced his appreciation for TSTC’s value to the area and the state.

“Thank you, TSTC, for 50 years of service and partnership in our community. Never straying from your original goal of ‘training Texans to work in Texas,’ you provided so many opportunities for rural residents to enhance the Texas workforce,” Lambert said. “I am proud to partner with you and look forward to seeing what TSTC in Sweetwater accomplishes in the next 50 years.”

Texas State Sen. Charles Perry, a native of Sweetwater, is also proud of the services provided at TSTC.

“Both employers and employees have benefited from the commitment to train and place tomorrow’s workforce to meet the needs of our growing state,” Perry said. “The model of ‘we don’t get paid unless the employee gets paid’ is one that maximizes taxpayers’ resources. TSTC’s legacy of providing the community a skilled workforce, and the families that workforce represents, is worthy of recognition and continuation of the state of Texas’ investment and support.”

Officials from Sweetwater and Nolan County also know the importance of the local campus.

“I took computer classes at TSTC 30 years ago,” said Sweetwater Mayor Jim McKenzie. “The importance of TSTC has not changed to our community and state since it first opened 50 years ago.”

Nolan County Judge Whitley May said the college has been and will continue to be an asset.

“TSTC has been a huge asset for our county and trade industry for years. It has helped people get jobs since it opened,” he said. “I look forward to another 50 years of TSTC in Nolan County.”

Ken Becker, executive director of the Sweetwater Enterprise for Economic Development Municipal Development District, said TSTC’s progression in Sweetwater is “quite amazing.”

“In this day and age, the ability to train workers for the marketplace and creating a talent pipeline is very important in economic development. We have a shortage of skilled labor for different sectors that can’t wait four to six years for a student to go through a program and graduate,” Becker said. 

“Companies have different entry points, and the ability of a person to go from student to productive employee in one to three semesters has provided a quicker pipeline of skilled workers,” he continued. “Just like inventories, we need just-in-time skilled workers to fill the talent gaps as companies retool to compete in an ever-changing business environment. Sweetwater is fortunate that community leaders some 50-plus years ago fought for TSTI to be located at historic Avenger Field, home of the WASP training.”

The first director of the campus was Elmer Kuntz, and J.N. Baker replaced him in January 1970. D.A. “Bill” Pevehouse was named the campus’ manager of instruction. Later in 1970, a name that would become a fixture for the campus was hired. Homer K. Taylor, who was an assistant principal at Sweetwater High School, joined TSTI as the campus’ assistant manager.

According to TSTC archives, 101 students were enrolled full time and 50 students were enrolled in evening classes during the first trimester.

When the first academic year ended, 43 students made up the graduation class. During the ceremony, TSTI President Roy Dugger announced the naming of the automotive building for Wade Forester, a Sweetwater auto dealer and businessman.

By 1973, the Sweetwater campus was considered one of the fastest-growing technical-vocational schools in the state.

“The old days of simply being willing to work have passed, and now during the technical age it is imperative that quality, trained technicians and craftsmen meet the entry requirements for the demanding need of business and industry,” Taylor said in an Aug. 5, 1973, San Angelo Standard Times article.

By 1975, TSTI graduated 446 students from one-year programs and another 1,494 from other special instructional courses.

With more student interest, state officials took notice and dedicated $1.9 million for a construction project in 1977. The project included a building for the new diesel mechanic program, which started in 1980. In 1979, funding for apartments to house 96 students was approved by TSTI’s regents.

The campus’ second decade began with more construction as $4.2 million was approved by Gov. Bill Clements for expansion. The funding included a vocational technology building for licensed vocational nursing, dental assistant, advanced emergency medical technician training and electronics. A graphics technology building and physical plant were also funded by the state. The vocational building was named for Pevehouse, who died in 1981.

In 1997, the Student Center opened its doors to the college and community. Many events, from banquets and fashion shows to fundraisers and job fairs, have been held in the facility over the years.

The campus has hosted many visitors over the years, including state and national officials. Former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, Gov. Dolph Briscoe, Gov. Mark White, U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, and even a group of U.S. Marines who trained on diesel engines have walked the campus grounds.

One person who traversed the campus since it opened was Taylor, who was named the campus’ president in 1999. He served in that capacity until his retirement in 2006. He was honored by the college when it named  the main entrance to campus Homer K. Taylor Drive.

During his more than 36 years with the college, Taylor saw the Sweetwater campus grow and in 1991 witnessed TSTI undergo a name change to TSTC. He kept the mission of training Texans for the workforce a top priority.

“The practicality of TSTC has been the real reason many of our graduates have been successfully placed in a job,” Taylor said in a 2006 interview.

Taylor’s replacement in Sweetwater and West Texas was Reeser. Under Reeser’s leadership, TSTC has continued the mission of “placing more Texans in great-paying jobs.”

Registration for the fall semester is underway. For more information, go to https://tstc.edu/admissions.